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Be prepared when visiting Waterton

Tuesday, 08 August 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Be prepared when visiting Waterton
Grizzly bears and black bears are commonly spotted throughout Waterton Lakes National Park. Many bears cross the highway while foraging for food, and drivers need to slow down and be cautious in order to reduce the likelihood of collision.   Photo courtesy of Parks Canada/Dan Rafla


Be prepared when visiting Waterton


Backcountry closures, fire bans and speed limit changes currently in place


By Tyler Ryan

Waterton Lakes National Park has implemented changes and there are things visitors should be aware of before making a trip.

Backcountry closures

An important change taking effect this week is a proactive limited backcountry closure due to elevated fire risk.

All backcountry campgrounds and some trails are closed, and off-trail hiking, scrambling and climbing in the park is prohibited.

Fire ban

An active fire ban has been in place in the park since July 17.

All open fires, including briquette barbecues, are banned in the park, including the townsite, campgrounds and day-use areas.

Gas- and propane-powered appliances may still be used.

Parks Canada is monitoring conditions with daily helicopter patrols. A local initial attack team, an additional Parks Canada initial attack team from Pukaskwa National Park are stationed at Waterton and ready to respond immediately in the event of a wildfire ignition.

Due to wildfires in British Columbia, smoke and air quality conditions can change daily.

Speed limit reduction  

The speed limit on the Highway 5 entrance road has been reduced from 80 to 60 kilometres per hour. The reduction is in effect until Thanksgiving.

Parks Canada staff have calculated the speed reduction adds only 30 seconds of driving time on the 1.75-kilometre stretch from Waterton Lakes Golf Course to the operations compound.

Dan Rafla, human and wildlife conflict specialist, says the reduction was implemented to ensure the safety of both visitors and wildlife by reducing the likelihood of collisions.

“We know that it’s a good wildlife crossing from east to west,” he says. “It’s a very popular horse crossing as well for horse riders.”

Bears, deer and other wildlife frequent this area, and six collisions between motorists and bears occurred in 2016.

There have been no collisions with bears this year.

1-888-WARDENS

Dan says more incidents with wildlife have been reported in 2017, thanks to a new phone number to contact Parks Canada dispatchers.

“I think that’s helping too [because] people are more willing to call if there’s a wildlife concern or an incident to report,” he says. The number was introduced partly because people may have been hesitant to call 911 for anything other than an extreme emergency.  

“It’s great because that allows us to get on top of things and be much more present and proactive with wildlife management,” he adds.

The number is 1-888-WARDENS (1-888-927-3367).

Wildlife encounters

Dan also hopes visitors use common sense when it comes to wildlife encounters. They should know that feeding wildlife in the park is unacceptable and comes with consequences.

“We make a big effort saying feeding wildlife is absolutely wrong,” he says. “Animals here can survive just fine on their own.”

He urges campers and other day-trippers to keep their areas clean and to put food away before leaving their sites.

There are currently two active sites where bears have been spotted foraging.

Park advisories have been put out for the Crandell Mountain Campground and the Akamina Parkway, but Dan says these are not causes for alarm because the bears have not shown signs of aggression. Visitors should view these advisories as cautionary reminders.

“We don’t really tolerate bears in the campground so we’ll haze them out,” Dan says.

In the Akamina Parkway, Dan says, the bear has foraged on human food and is patrolling the area looking for more.

Although the bear is not showing signs of aggression, Dan says there have been precautionary tactics taken such as closing off picnicking areas to discourage the bear from coming back.

A visitor caught feeding wildlife may be hit with a $25,000 fine.

“As for consequences for the bear, well, a fed bear may be a dead bear,” Dan says.

High visitor volume

Locke Marshall, visitor experience manager with Parks Canada, estimates there will be a 20 to 30 per cent increase in the number of park visitors due to Canada 150 celebrations this year.

He says weekends are an especially busy time and recommends that people try to find time during the middle of the week to visit.

He also suggests that people plan visits early in the morning or later in the day to avoid traffic and busy areas.

“If [visitors] want to get a really good feel for what exactly is happening on the ground, we’ve really suggested that they go to our website or our Facebook or Twitter and even Alberta 511,” Locke says.

Parks Canada also has a downloadable smartphone app that provides additional information.

More staff have been added to help alleviate traffic concerns. Wildlife guardians, who monitor areas where wildlife have been spotted and ensure animals and people coexist without any issues, have been implemented.

This includes managing people to ensure that traffic keeps moving or hazing an animal back into the bush for safety reasons.

Locke also suggests checking out areas that may not get the same amount of foot traffic but still offer the majesty that Waterton is known for.

He says Cameron Lake and Red Rock Canyon tend to be the busiest areas of the park, but “the road that leads to the Chief Mountain highway towards the United States border is a beautiful drive and often wildlife is seen on that route as well.”

He also suggests visiting the Bison paddock if the Waterton townsite is busy.

“The wildflowers are just fantastic out there right now and you get a chance to see the bison, and in particular the baby bison that are there.”

The park reached maximum capacity on Sunday, with traffic control measures put into effect for several hours.

Waterton is expected to be very busy again during the Labour Day weekend, from Sept. 1 to 4, and visitors are asked to plan ahead.

Things to keep in mind

Never feed the wildlife — it’s illegal in national parks.

Educate yourself about wildlife found at Waterton.   

Always follow the rules of the road and stop to view wildlife only in designated pullouts. Take a picture and move on.

Always keep your dog on a leash.   

Hike during the day and make noise. Travel in groups.

Do not approach wildlife. Try to stay at least 30 metres away from large animals and 100 metres away from bears — so no selfies!

Carry bear spray when hiking and camping and know how to use it.

Keep a clear campsite. Store all wildlife attractants (food, garbage, dishes, toiletries).

While driving or hiking, stay alert and aware of your surroundings at all times.

Check in with Parks Canada on-site for safety tips and up-to-date advisories.



20130617 Waterton Speed and Visitor Grizzly Bear Cub Photo Credit Parks Canada Dan Rafla
Although cubs may look cute, visitors to Waterton Lakes National Park are urged to give bears a wide berth in order to protect both people and wildlife.   Photo courtesy of Parks Canada/Dan Rafla





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From the August 9, 2017 print edition of Shootin’ the Breeze.
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